My Mom refuses to talk about and seek medical help for severe knee problems. Any advice?

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My mother is 75 years old and living alone at home. My father passed away 4 years ago and she's been on her own ever since. Here's a little background on her to give you some perspective; she moved to California from the east coast in the 60's and never looked back. Growing up she never spoke spoke of her childhood and my brother and I, to this day, know next to nothing about her childhood. Anytime we would ask she would quickly change the subject or tell us to drop it. She was like this with my father also. Everything else was normal and she is a great mother, but this subject was taboo.

She worked in a hospital as an RN and then in outpatient services for close to 50 years but never, and I mean NEVER, got any medical care for herself. Medical, dental, vision...anything. Complete neglect.

So here is the current situation. A couple years ago her knee started giving here problems and she began walking with a slight limp. Over the years this has degraded into near complete immobility. She can barely stand up from a chair, she can only bend over slightly to use the toilet - which makes a big mess, and she can't clean it up because she can't bend over - and the most concerning thing is that she has taken a few falls in the past year. Every time my brother or I try talking to her about it she gets angry and tells us to "drop it", or "I don't wan't to talk about it." The strange thing is that she is completely lucid in all other aspects of her life. She can drive, her finances are in good shape, etc...

Just a couple days ago she fell in the garage at my brothers and laid on the floor for 2 hours before she could get up. My sister in law was with here and wanted to call 911 but my mother would not let her - I know, she should have called anyway, but she didn't. Instead, she called a family friend that lives nearby for help, and even that took an act of God for my mom to allow.

It's clear that she is in total denial about her situation, and is probably afraid to seek medical attention. Not to mention whatever happened when she was young. My brother's family lives 1 1/2 hours away and I live 6 hours away so we can't always be there for her. I honestly think if she fell when no one was around she would rather die than call for help. My brother floated the idea that she misses our father so much that she just doesn't want to live anymore and is going to let this thing take it's natural course.

Has anyone dealt with this sort of situation? Any suggestions on how we should proceed? We are all at our wits end and scared to death that something very bad is going to happen very soon, and she has left us with zero options other than ignoring the situation, which we did for too long out of respect for her but is no longer an option. Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you.

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It's hard to take but it sounds like your mom is very lucid and just has very rigid ideas about certain things. As a nurse, she certainly has a good idea of what's going on with her knees. And still she chooses to ignore it. I don't think she's going to change this late in the game. If lying on the floor for 2 hours doesn't change her mind, there's not too much that will.

Only you can change. You just have to accept that she's living exactly the life she wants to live. Make it clear you're there to help her if she asks for it, but let her live the way she wants. So you just need to change how you react, or you'll make yourself sick over it.
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1 Getting her knee "fixed" would be the best option, wouldn't it? But I don't think that is going to happen or you would have discovered the way by now. She is a nurse. There can't be much you could tell her about medical care that would be news to her.
2 Getting her in-home help would be next on my try-to list. Who does her housecleaning, cooking, laundry, etc? Does she accept help with those kinds of things? If her living conditions have become filthy and hazardous because of her disabilities, you could report her to Adult Protection Services in her county. That might force this particular issue.
3 As pstegman says, an assisted living facility would be a good option. I don't see how you could force her to accept that, but try any persuasive approaches you can think of.
4 A mental health check up may be in order. I know first hand how crazy your thinking can become at the death of a spouse, but I doubt your brother's theory is correct because this self-neglect started long before Mom became a widow. Still it might be helpful for her to see a therapist. Since she won't talk to you it seems highly unlikely she'll talk to anyone about this, but you could try.
5 If she has a spiritual advisor perhaps he or she could reason with your mother.
6 In addition to, or if necessary in spite of, any of the above options, encourage her to have her end-of-life plans up to date. Talk about power of attorney, advance health care directives, a will, what companies she has life insurance policies with, etc. This is for you and your brother's sakes and perhaps she can be convinced to make your roles easier.

She is lucid and in her right mind except on this subject. She has a legal right to be odd or eccentric, even in self-destructive ways. I am so sorry for the pain this causes you.

Mom is going to die someday. Given her present decisions it may be sooner than necessary and in a preventable manner. Prepare yourself emotionally for this possibility. (How, I have no idea. My heart goes out to you.)

You sound like a caring, loving, realistic person. I know you are doing and will do everything you can. That may be limited. At the very least don't fall into the despair of guilt over this. Do your best. Love you mother. Do not blame yourself for what is not your fault.
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You can't force her to do anything unless she is declared incompetent. She should have Medicare coverage A & B at the very least. She sounds like a candidate for Assisted Living. We took mom for tours without telling her where we were going. She actually liked the places, finally agreed to a one month trial. Mom only gets $1600 from SS but is eligible for VA aid up to $1113 per month. We found a place that fits the budget and she went for a one month trial and is having a really good time.
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